Bristolcon

You ever get the guilty feeling that you’re so late with a post that it’s now too late, the thing you thought you should have written about days ago is old news, the window has been closed, the moment missed? Well I sort of feel like that. But I had too good a time at Bristolcon on Saturday not to at least acknowledge the hard work of chairperson Joanne Hall, who invited me when we met a month ago in Brighton at Fantasycon. She is clearly one of those rare people who can combine grace and good humour with ferocious organisational and timekeeping skills, as a result of which Bristolcon was fun and relaxed and went off without a hitch, at least from where I was standing/sitting/moving between panel discussions. And I met other extremely cool people and had some really interesting, stimulating conversations: shout-outs to Colum Paget (who appears to have recruited me for a hypothetical panel two Eastercons away – I’m game), Cheryl Morgan (who I think is a Bristolcon grandee, and I suspect a grandee of rather a lot, but I confess to missing details in the general hilarity), Iain Cairns, John Hawkes-Reed, Simeon Beresford, John Meaney, Gareth PowellAliette de Bodard (I came in early for a panel, caught the tail end of her reading, and became a fan; even more so when I spoke to her after and she turned out to be friendly and charming and invited me to sit at their table for lunch), and the lovely woman wearing the Neil Gaiman T-shirt with whom I shared a gushing fangirl moment along with a rather more measured chat, and whose name has since gone completely out of my head. I knew I should have posted sooner.

So be warned, those whom I will meet for the second, or even the third, time at Eastercon; it’s possible that I might get a deer-in-the-headlights look when you swan up to me with a cheery greeting. Please don’t take it personally, any more than I will when I do the swanning and you do the stricken-Bambi. I suspect it’s a condition endemic to the Cons, to be overcome only by repeated exposure.

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Of giants and gentlemen

Gosh, that was fun.

I’ve been trying to figure out what my FantasyCon highlight was. There were the free books courtesy of a host of SFF major and indie publishers, and the free booze courtesy (mostly) of Jo Fletcher Books, and being introduced to the great and the good by the lovely Nicola Budd thusly: ‘Oh, have you met Stephanie? She’s one of our authors.’ There was the almost-impossible SFF trivia quiz which we came oh-so-close to winning, and the casual chat about one of my favourite authors with one of my favourite publishers, during which just enough was said about his next book to have me literally salivating in anticipation. It might have been getting to know the delightful Tom Pollock, reading (over and over) the inscription he wrote in my copy of The City’s Son or hearing him read the first chapter of its as-yet-unfinished sequel The Glass Republic; or laughing and talking literature with the equally delightful Snorri Kristjansson, whose first novel The Swords of Good Men I’m now looking forward to just as much.

But on reflection, wonderful as all those moments were, THE moment was something else. And I didn’t even know it at the time.

It was at the JFB 1st-anniversary party on Saturday night, surrounded by the beautiful books they’ve published over the past year and the beautiful bookmarks showcasing some of the volumes – including mine – coming next year. I started chatting to another of the authors whose novel Planesrunner is also featured on said bookmark. He was a convivial bloke named Ian McDonald, possessed of a thick brogue, a battered black leather jacket and amusingly wry commentary about books that do well in the US but not the UK and vice versa, for no reason that anyone can work out. There was something very familiar about him, though we clearly had never met before, and I blame the wine for me not paying sufficient attention to that fact at the time. He politely asked about me, and I gushed forth – as I’m afraid I may have done rather a lot – about how amazed and lucky I felt to be an about-to-be-published writer, how quickly and unexpectedly it had all happened, that a year ago I hadn’t even finished writing the novel whose cover art we were admiring. He blinked in what looked like genuine surprise and complimented me, something along the lines of: that’s pretty unusual, must be a really good book. So they tell me, I said, but let’s see what the punters think when it comes time to drop a tenner on it at Waterstones. And we had a chuckle, and shortly after that the currents of the party pulled us in different directions, as they do, and I didn’t see him again.

I wish I could say that the penny dropped the moment that scruffy jacket disappeared into the crowd, that waves of enlightenment parted around him and crashed over me in a well-deserved tsunami. I’m afraid it took a little longer, but I got there in the end. Ian McDonald. That’s the guy who wrote River of Gods and Brasyl, along with a host of other award-winning and -nominated books of the past twenty-odd years. The BSFA, Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke. That Ian McDonald. Look him up if you don’t know. I did, as the penny pirouetted to a halt with a mocking tinkle. I must have not-quite-recognised him from a book jacket, or maybe from a webcast interview he did with that aforementioned favourite author of mine, talking about their respective Great Works. And he must have clocked me as an oblivious newbie, unaware of the extent of my own ignorance, and just let it go.

And that, in microcosm, was what made FantasyCon such a good experience. The warmth and welcome, the genuine enthusiasm and complete lack of pretension, the amused and kindly forbearance of the veterans for the novices. The fact that a giant of our genre was nice enough to let me prattle on, and felt absolutely no need to clue me in to who he was. To say and not say exactly the things that made me feel that I belonged there, just as he did.

Mr. McDonald, sir: I salute you. Better late than never.

FantasyCon here I come

I’m off to FantasyCon in Brighton on Friday morning. My first ever genre convention, and I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I never felt moved to go to them as a reader; I never really understood how my enjoyment of fantastic fiction was going to be increased by propping up the bar next to a costumed stormtrooper. Or an orc. One of the interesting things about becoming a writer, though, is that you find yourself having a different, and often more democratic, perspective on things. Could I, in my wildest dreams, dare to hope that one day I might go to a convention where fans dress up as characters I created? It’s very, very, very unlikely – I’ve got a better chance of being hit by lightning in this unseasonably stormy September weather – but all of a sudden it seems less a questionable eccentricity and more like the ultimate accolade.

Plus there are the educational and community aspects. I don’t feel like I’ve really found my feet yet – this whole first-book-about-to-be-published, struggling-through-the-second-book, is a weird experience. It’s so different to my former life. It seems to be going well, but how can you tell? What do you compare it to? I don’t know anybody else who does this for a living. I don’t even know if I do it for a living, or if it’s just a strange, fortuitous little bubble of time, in which I get to live my fantasy life of being a writer for a few months, maybe a year or two, before the money runs out and the books don’t sell well and I have to go back to having a proper, full-time job. Back in the real world.

So roll on FantasyCon. There’ll be pundits and publishers, bloggers and fans. But I’m particularly looking forward to meeting other writers – both published and aspiring, those who can do it for a living and those who do it purely for love. With any luck I’ll get some tips and tricks for dealing with the ups and downs, the disappointments and reversals (and – who knows? – maybe even the successes) to come. I want to know if I’m the only one finding their second novel problematic and intimidating in a way the first one never was. If I’m alone in swinging from the elation of a perfect paragraph at noon to the despair of garbled dialogue at midnight. In short, I’m hoping for the reassurance, the camaraderie, of like minds.

And maybe even an orc or two.

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